Throughout our four months on the M/V Explorer, I have heard various reasons why students chose to study abroad on this particular program: “I wanted to travel.” “I wanted to see the world.” “I’m graduating soon, and I wanted one last hurrah.” “I’m lost…I’m hoping to find myself.” I can’t say any particular one of these reasons prompted me to apply as staff—and as an almost-29 year old, I’d hope my motives were far different than those a decade my junior—and yet, here I am at the (literal) end of this amazing journey, back in America having (literally) circumnavigated the globe, and trying to dissect just what it is exactly that happened to all of us these past 111 days.
I have yet to put my finger on it, but this is what I know:
I learned patience. That’s always been my greatest flaw. I want what I want when I want it. I’m not exactly one to wait around and hope things come my way; rather, I seek them out myself. When you’re living on a floating campus in the middle of the ocean, resources are limited, and with 900 people’s feelings and needs to consider, you aren’t always the top priority (in fact, you hardly ever are). As you learn early on in your Semester at Sea days, “the ‘f’ word”—meaning flexibility—is key, as is chilling out when things go wrong (as they inevitably will).
I learned community. The sense of togetherness Semester at Sea fosters is simply something indescribable to everyone other than those who have been a part of the program, past of present. You alumni, you know exactly what I’m talking about.
I learned teamwork. I was so blessed to be part of an office environment in which not only did we all get along, but in which each of us individually made for a greater whole. There is no feasible way a program with such intricate and complex details could function without such unity. The four others—Josh, Paula, Trina and Laurie—not to mention our six work study students and all the other fantastic colleagues with whom we shared the ship will be people I hold dear for the rest of my lifetime. (You all officially have been warned for when I show up on your doorsteps unannounced.)
I learned to step away from technology. It’s no big secret—and quickly becomes a running joke among the shipboard community each term—just how slow and unreliable the shipboard Internet is. (Plus, you have to pay for it, and time and bandwidth don’t come with a low price tag.) But, hey, guess what? It turns out I don’t need to check my e-mail every 0.17 seconds. Nor do I need to log onto Twitter every day, let alone every hour. I didn’t even have a phone for the past four months, and not only did I survive, but I loved that general sense of disconnect. And while my blog may have suffered (however marginally), there were always going to be sacrifices that had to be made in order to live out such a dream.
I found a new calling. While writing will always be my first and foremost passion, I cannot even express how much I loved being around the college crowd day in and day out. The best times I had on the entire voyage were when I was leading ISE trips full of fun, curious students. I played (almost) every intramural, participated in (almost) every shipboard activity, and spent my meals and evenings engaging with the “kids” for whom this program was created. Teaching was never anything that interested me, but after working for a university, I now understand there are so many more components to an academic program than being professor. I’m just saying, don’t be surprised if one day I combine writing with a career in higher education, more specifically programs abroad (Vanderbilt, are you reading this?).
I learned friendship. I’ve always been quick to make friends, but when you’re living side by side, sharing an office space, going to every meal, traveling in foreign countries, and also seeing and experiencing so much together—in both a cultural context, as well as mutual frustrations—alongside the very same people day in and day out, it takes friendship to a whole other level.
There was a point in time—during our 20 straight nights on the ship over the long Pacific sail—when I was ready to be off the ship. (I blame cabin fever and the ever-present fog that settled in as we left Japan.) And now that it’s time to go, I can’t imagine a life in which the M/V Explorer and all of her entities are not a part of my daily happenings.
A very dear friend once told me that the people make the place. Such a statement could not be more accurate for Semester at Sea; interacting daily with such intelligent, motivated, bright and open-minded individuals was truly the chance of a lifetime and not something I will ever take for granted.